By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
The Perry Pirates and Conneaut Spartans are learning new things this season.
One thing they already have in common is a knowledge that they need to start their games focusing on defensive pressure and limiting turnovers.
The Pirates can go much deeper into their depth charts during games to apply that pressure, though, and they did just that Wednesday night to create a spurt covering just about a whole period to open a big lead and dismantle the Spartans at Garcia Gymnasium, 49-25.
“We’re really not where we want to be,” Perry coach Mike Decker said. “We are getting to play a lot of girls, though. Tonight we went a bit deeper into the bench because we got into foul trouble in the first half. The girls played hard, we were able to overcome mistakes, and our defense carried us to the win.”
After Perry (2-3, 0-2 in Chagrin Valley Conference) opened an 8-2 lead early in the game, the Spartans tightened up on defense and clawed their way back into the game with 1:39 left in the first half when Shae Brink hit a pair of free throws to cut the Pirate lead to 23-14.
From that point on until just 2:50 showed on the clock in the third period, when Lexi Zappitelli nailed a 3-pointer for her only hoop of the night, Conneaut did not score. Perry had opened a 38-15 lead before that shot, and the inability to keep control of the ball scuttled the Spartan (2-4) offense the rest of the way.
Turnovers plagued both teams, but the Pirates had theirs in bunches as they totaled 30 for the game. In between those bunches, though, they got the ball to the hoop. They hit just 17 of 57 shots for the game.
Turning the ball over 33 times, Conneaut just did it too consistently to mount an offense, and were able to get off only 25 shots for the game. With an assist for each successful bucket, making only five hoops for the game showed how much the Spartans turnovers costed them offensively.
“I thought with the way we played in the first half and fought our way back into the game,” Conneaut coach Tony Pasanen said, “we took a step in the right direction. We have to play an physical, fullcourt style of defense to have a chance to win. Our halfcourt defense was fine in the first half, but in the second half, we got away from that.”
Balance is a key on offense for both teams, but the Pirates got in in a big way. Ten of the 13 players scored, led by nine apiece from Gabby Sutyak, a freshman, and Brittany Levkuvich, a sophomore.
That shows how young the Pirates are, and illustrates the need for solid defense all the time.
“Our first main key for our team,” Decker said, “is to make sure we pressure all over the court and try to make sure we get more shots than the other team. If we’re forcing turnovers, that should happen. Tonight, we did a very good job with that.”
Indeed they did. Not getting the ball into the offensive zone kept the Spartans from really mounting an offense. As a result, Tori Simek and Brooke Bennett led the Spartan scoring with just 5 points each. Fullcourt pressure created a tough night just getting the ball over midcourt much of the time.
“I’ve told the girls that if we are going to win this season, it’s going to be ugly,” Pasanen said. “They hustle all the time. I can’t praise their effort enough, but after a while in the second half, when mistakes piled up, we lost our focus a bit. I told the girls they can’t let one mistake lead into 3 or 4, and tonight it did. If we can play four solid quarters, we will be alright.”
Decker was pleased with the performance of his team.
“We’ve had the schedule God’s against us so far,” Decker said of his team. “We opened right up in league play and against Madison, and it doesn’t get easier. This Friday, we host Kenston.”
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.